The Eight Things About Project Management I Learned From a Kangaroo

By Denise DeCarlo, PMP

In honour (yes – we’ll be using the Queen’s English for this article) of the new Canberra office Mindavation recently opened in Australia – we thought we’d discuss the similarities between those oh-so-cute kangaroos and project management. So … let’s hop to it!

1) Have weapons, but rarely if ever use them

Kangaroos are typically docile animals. However, if provoked or attacked, they can be deadly by using long sharp claws on their hind legs to wound their attacker. As a general rule project managers are also very effective and we also are docile. Over reacting to typical day-to-day “fires” is usually not favourable and certainly doesn’t help the team remain focused and content. However, if your project is being “attacked” by a key stakeholder – it’s our obligation to defend the project and our project activities. General rule of thumb – be docile – but defend your project with passion.

2) Instruct your team to avoid surprising you

Kangaroos absolutely despise being surprised or sneaked up on. If you do want to “meet” a kangaroo and not alarm them you should approach them from the front – facing them directly – certainly not from behind. As project managers – we don’t like surprises at all! The sooner we know about a problem – the more time and potential resources we’ll have available to address the problem. Remind your team members how important it is for you to be aware of every day problems. Not so you can solve the problem necessarily – instead for awareness so you can be supportive of your team members. I would even suggest rewarding your team for bringing problems to your attention – to demonstrate to them how important this truly is. Candy from your candy jar can go a long ways!

3) Handle your project with care

Kangaroos love to cuddle their young and keep them close in their pouch. Project managers should handle their scope as ‘precious cargo’ to be dealt with carefully and seriously – always understand your scope and protect it. You don’t want your scope to be taken from you, and conversely you probably don’t want your scope increasing unnecessarily as well. Manage your scope with well documented requirements with scope boundaries and always adhere to strict change control practices to ensure scope is managed with care.

4) Never forget to play

Believe it or not kangaroos have actually been seen body surfing at a beach near Sydney Australia – it’s true! When is the last time you had fun with your team? A good laugh is always great for the soul. Project management is a serious topic – but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun along the way! Tell jokes (clean ones of course), poke fun of one another on occasion, try playing a game (like Catch Phrase or “Two Truths and a Lie ) for 5 minutes during your next team meeting, or bring a food item (bagels, brownies, etc.) at the next team meeting to lighten the mood. People spend way too much time at work to not have fun along the way.

5) Know where you are hopping

As you drive into Canberra from the north (Canberra is the nation’s capitol located three hours south of Sydney via car) – you almost always see one kangaroo that has been hit by a car. Moral of the story? Be careful where you hop – you just might become road kill! Sorry for the gruesome analogy but it’s so true. If you don’t understand the political “waves” of the environment you work in you will be “roadkill” For instance, is it ok for your project to go from a green status (healthy) one week to red (a critical problem has surfaced) the next? Is there an unspoken rule that first you must let your sponsor know the colour of your project is changing before the report is distributed and it’s rarely ok to jump from green to red? You get the idea. If you’re new to an organisation, a consultant working on a new account or you’re simply now working with a division in a large company that you have not worked with in the past – you probably would be best suited to find someone who understands the political culture in your area and take that person out to lunch so they can guide you through some of the political no-no’s to prevent yourself from becoming the next road kill victim unnecessarily.

6) Create and “hang with” your team

When driving into Canberra the other day, I noticed a huge group (well over 100) of kangaroos jumping through a large area. It was an amazing sight to see them all together working their way across several farms. They definitely had a vision of where they were going as they were moving in unison together. We all know that our project team is successful because we are a TEAM. We must work together to solve problems, generate great ideas and overcome the challenges that become a part of managing complex projects. As the leader for the team, the project manager is responsible for instilling the team spirit and guiding the team members to success with a very clear vision.

7) Go where you need to be to get the job done

Kangaroos despise being fenced in. In fact – they will kick down a fence with their hind legs so they can roam freely. I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand being restricted and “fenced in.” A project manager needs the flexibility to get their job done without the restriction of too many barriers and stringent rules to overcome. We need the ability to be creative in solving the problems that our project team encounters. Rules and policies are certainly needed in any organisation, however, a project manager needs to have the where-with-all to understand when the time is appropriate to work around a given policy (with management approval) so the team can progress. (If you truly want to know more about this topic – attend Mindavation’s keynote or 2-day course on Intelligent Disobedience.)

8) Don’t be afraid to “box” a little

We’ve all seen the funny photo of what looks like two young kangaroos boxing. The young actually do this as a means to get to know one another Now, I’m not suggesting you have a “spar” with your sponsor in this manner, but I do think it’s wise for any project manager to test the waters to determine how key stakeholders react to different levels of risk (are they risk tolerant or risk adverse?). A lively conversation (sparing) between the project manager and key stakeholders on occasion simply demonstrates you are passionate about your project, that you understand your project needs, and your purpose is to ultimately deliver a product the sponsor will be thrilled to receive.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this light hearted article showing the similarities between project managers and kangaroos. Now if we can all learn to jump swiftly from meeting to meeting as quickly as a kangaroo – our project end dates will probably move in by a few weeks!



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